The World's Worst Places to Be a Woman

June 17, 2011

Amnesty USA’s Women’s Human Rights Group member Lyric Thompson was recently polled among a number of international women’s rights experts on the world’s worst place to be a woman. The results are in.

A recent survey by TrustLaw, a project of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, polled 213 women’s rights experts on what they consider to be the world’s worst place to be a woman.

The results are in, and topping the list are Afghanistan, DR Congo, Pakistan, Somalia and India, based on a variety of factors including rape and violence, lack of health services, poverty and human trafficking.

According to the poll, Afghanistan ranks as the worst place in the world to be a woman.

Women in today’s Afghanistan daily face a host of threats, from insurgent violence; attacks on schoolgirls and working women for daring to venture out into the public sphere; high levels of rape and domestic violence, as well as widespread physical and sexual abuse by state forces; forced and child marriage; and honor killings. 87% of Afghan women are illiterate, while 70-80% face forced marriage, many before the age of 16.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which ranked second on the list of the worst places to be a woman, an ongoing war has featured a brutal and strategic campaign of sexual violence targeted at women, from toddlers to the elderly.

Armed militias and members of state forces are notorious for brutal gang rapes as well as sexual and human trafficking.  Women who survive or escape bear a social stigma in their families and communities, or worse suffer from fistula, a painful and embarrassing tearing of the wall between the vaginal and rectal canals.

In addition to conflict-related violence, which is largely associated with the easternmost provinces, a recent analysis of a 2007 household survey finds more than 1,100 women are raped every day in the Congo, nationwide. This tally accounts for both domestic violence and conflict-associated rapes; spousal rape is not criminalized in the DRC.

Pakistan, India and Somalia ranked third, fourth and fifth, respectively, due to high rates of domestic violence, female infanticide (which is estimated to have resulted in up to 50 million girls are thought to be “missing” over the past century), female genital cutting, acid attacks and economic discrimination.

The inclusion of economic discrimination as a form of violence is of particular note; although women comprise 70 percent of the world’s poor (which is widely acknowledged to be a violation of human rights and dignity), it is not always remembered as a form of violence. However, many manifestations violence against women can be traced to roots in poverty, such as the tradition of forced marriage by families seeking to alleviate debt (widely practiced in Afghanistan and Pakistan), the sale of girl children into sex slavery (common in India), and maternal mortality rates associated with lack of access to healthcare.

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